Perception ~ Coloured by the External Environment and Our Inner Preconception, Can We Truly See This World?

In an experiment conducted by Washington Post [1] back in 2007, they explore questions such as

“Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment? ”

Will one of the U.S.’s greatest violinists be noticed in a D.C. Metro stop during rush hour? Joshua Bell [2] experimented for Gene Weingarten’s story in The Washington Post: (Video by John W. Poole)

Video after the break.

Do we truly see things as they are?  How coloured are we by the external environment and our inner preconception?

Do we see the goodness in our friends or do we judge influenced by the above factors?

When we study in school, do we learn the most from the teacher regardless of the environment and our perception of him?  Or do we blame it on the teacher when we fail?

At work, who do we consider our friends?  Are there enemies or as they say, in business and politics, there is only common interest?  Do we allow ourselves to see the world with tainted glasses or do we peer through the colourings and see how things truly are?

Being influenced by our perception, we may respond or act differently, affecting how we interact with them and the environment.

Take our studies as an example, the following table models what can possibly be our “subject absorption” rate [3].

Subject Absorption Rate

T x S

Teacher (subject + teaching skill) T%





(attention + mindfulness + interest )



9% C1










81% C9


How well our teacher knows the subject and can teach is something we cannot quite change while we are in the classroom or lecture theatre.  We can choose how attentive and mindfully we listen and how much interest we give it.


A simplistic 30%, 60% and 90% is presented for both teacher and student.  Assuming a loss-less
knowledge transmission, each of the nine squares above shows the outcome from a simple Teacher-Student matrix.

The cell C1 shows the worse case scenario of 9% subject absorption while the cell C9 shows a win-win high 81% subject absorption!

Of interest is the last row, where the student maximizes his learning regardless of the teacher, and the first row, where the best teacher cannot help the student who does not give his best in class.

Missing from the table is a student’s own flair for the subject.  That cannot change on the spot in class, and hence is not shown in the table.  While it does affect the outcome, it has more or less a uniform impact across the nine scenarios above.

The ‘payout’ is that regardless of the teacher’s subject and teaching ability, the student who gives 30%, has to consistently put in much more effort after class to catch up while the student with higher attention, mindfulness and interest need to put in lesser effort after class.

How about the way we perceive people around us?  Do we choose the best case scenario or set ourselves up for the worse case?

How about the video above?  Without a stage, is the violinist any lesser?

Do we listen to advices because of the environment, or the speaker, or the message itself?

If the words of wisdom from the various renowned teachers are shared with you by a perfect stranger, an unknown clergy, priest or Buddhist monastic, would you learn and benefit as much from it?

If we meet the Buddha today, will we learn something from him?

When the student is ready, even the rustle of the leaves teach the Dharma!


[1]  Washington Post article “Pearls Before Breakfast – Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.”

[2]  Joshua David Bell (born December 9, 1967) is an American Grammy Award-winning violinist.

[3] This table was formulated by myself after my second year academic meltdown.  I stopped blaming my lecturer for my failure, picked myself up and moved on to complete my degree in Computer Engineering, working in R&D and consulting before doning the robes!

Buddhism: The Last Honest Religion? Entertaining Q&A with Dalai Lama

I watch this video with much respect for His Holiness The Dalai Lama. My respect for HH comes not from his position, age or role as the 14th DL, but his openness to embrace scientific findings while being clear and firm on the Dharma (Buddhist teachings)!

My respects to him! ^_^

The Dalai Lama had a discussion in his home Dharamsala, India, on March 15th, 2011 with some Thai Buddhists. The first question asked of him is basically “How does Buddhism mesh with modern science?” His answer is quite refreshing to hear from any leader of any religion.

Though, whether or not Buddhism is really a stereotypical “religion” is very much up for debate. Many classify it has a philosophy rather than a religion – myself being one of them (with exception to the supernatural-endorsing sects). I do not consider myself a Buddhist but have great reverence for many of their teachings.




Full 2-hour discussion – Question & Answer Session with Thai Buddhists

Which Part of “All Conditioned Phenomena Are Subject to Change” Do We Not Understand?

So we started off with wood for our tools and made many things with it.  We chose the trees that are strong and durable.  That was good for awhile.  Then we dried them, treated & processed them and made them last longer.  Along the way, we also used stone.  Oh, stone is so much harder and last longer.  But it was not as malleable as wood.  So we used both for a long time, complementing each other.

We then discovered smithing and started using copper, tin, bronze,  iron and many others.  Along the way, we developed and learnt how to make them stronger and more durable.  With each innovation, we found a way to prevent them from rusting, from breaking down.

Beyond wood, stone and metal, we also used glass and clay.  Unlike wood, glass and clay can be molded into various shapes needed.  Strong and yet lighter than metal, it was great.  But they were brittle.  Very brittle.  Modern tempered glass can be made stronger, but then it is heavy.

Then we invented a magical material.

It was malleable and yet hard.  If you needed, soft variants can be made.  You can make it into thin strands like cotton thread, or have them shaped into bigger stronger structures if needed.  And it was durable.  It would not decay or rot like wood, nor rust like metal.  It was water resistant and can have high heat tolerance if needed.  You can even shape it the way you want it.  Exactly.  Precisely.  It was the perfect, magical material.

We invented plastic.

Now we have the ideal material that allowed us to do whatever we want.  Perfect ideal material.  Magical.  Only problem:  We are too successful in our pursuit.  Most plastics will outlast several generations of human beings.

Some people say that we should bring our own bags when we go to the market or mall.  I agree.  But I think many Singaporeans reuse that *ntuc* plastic bag as trash bag.  If we bring our own bags, we will end up buying trash bags, which we are presently not buying.

The problem is that we cannot see across time and space.  We can only see what is near, so it is hard to visualise how the whole earth is changing because of our habits.  We also cannot see these changes to our environment because we do not have the patience, energy or ability to watch over a span of several months or years.  And even if we could, we mostly lack the ability to see the patterns within what we observe.

We are unable to link our habits (cause) with the environment harm (results).

The same goes for the Law of Karma.  Untrained, it is not easy for us to see directly the functioning of karma.  But if we train our mind to be more observant, calm and mindful, we can start to see the patterns emerging.  Patterns of wholesome actions
leading to happiness, peace and calm, and patterns of unwholesome actions leading to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair.

To observe the long term effects of our actions on the environment, scientists take sample data from various environment metrics to develop a model.  Through this model, they can approximate and project the possible impact of our actions before it occurs.  So far, the picture is not a pretty one.  We are going into our 59th minute or 11th hour.  Our time is running out.

The world as a whole need to rethink how we use the earth’s resources.  It is not an finite source unlike the US dollar (or other currency) which the US treasury can simply print more green back and flood the market with it.  If a certain natural resource run low or run out, we cannot simply produce more of it.  Natural resources cannot be manufactured so to speak.  It can only be replenished over time as nature take its course.  A broken wooden chair when left to the element, decay and rot over time.  Its constituent parts, be it the four elements or its hydrocarbon molecules, break down as it interacts with the environment.  Over time, a chair that is untreated will totally disintegrate and so call ‘disappear’; the ‘chair’ disappeared’ but the elements move on in this earth, is absorbed or combine with other entities.  This process of decay and decomposition do not speed up just because scientific advances allowed us to speed up the manufacturing process. 

Scientists are also trying to speed up the decomposition by tweaking certain bacteria to act on certain ‘protein’ in plastic, and a teen managed to do just that.  “The Waterloo, Ontario high school junior figured that something must make plastic degrade, even if it does take millennia, and that something was probably bacteria.”

It all boils down to control.  We want changes that suit us.  But nature has other plans.  This very physical world has other plans.  It will change, not according to our whims and fancy.  It will change only according to conditions.  In a simplistic sense, science is really about understanding this world so that we can steer how it changes in order to satisfy our needs and wants.  When we want it not to change, we paint it, lacquer it, glaze it, electroplate it, wrap it with vinyl, enshrine it in glass or make it chemically inert.  If we want it to change, we heat it up, toss it around, dissolve it, charge it, or even send our bacterial minions to do our bidding.

Scientists in some ways are like the Buddha.  They try to know and understand this world to make our life easier, better, without so much stress and suffering.  Difference is that the Buddha discovered that the nature of this world is that it is impermanent, subject to change and cannot be controlled by any single entity, but goes in a constant flux of transitions according to conditions.  Instead of changing the world, the Buddha realised that we have to change ourselves.  By reducing our craving and attachment, our suffering reduces, by realising the true nature of all phenomena, one’s habit of delighting, craving and attachment / control subsides and ceases.  With that, suffering also ceases.

Scientists instead went the other way to change the world.

As I type on this keyboard, made mainly of plastic, I wonder how we can balance between changing the world and changing ourselves.  Each of us have to find that balance that work for us at this moment.  I just hope we find that balance sooner.

So, which part of “All conditioned phenomena are subject to change” do we not understand?



I Like Science, Esp Physics … …

I like science, esp physics, partly because it can be proven and partly because it is this understanding that allowed many modern inventions. I also like physics because it meant that when I studied kinematics (way back in secondary school and JC), I only had to study once and can apply the same stuffs in three different exams!

The one thing I love was the mathematical proving1 in JC. Not that I was particularly good at it, ‘cos I frequently prove that 0 = 0 or 1 = 1 and not prove or disprove the intended question!

While I have this passion for maths, physics and science, I also wonder how many of us take it as fact or truth as long as scientists say so. How many of us have proven all the mathematical, physical and chemical laws, and how many of us assume it should be right?

Granted, I have confidence in those in labcoats, and I do not propose that we learn years of aerospace engineering before taking a plane or civil & structural engineering to stay in a highrise without becoming paranoid.

Physicists are using Large Hadron Collider (LHC) as the instrument to find or verify the presence Higgs boson (particles). Their experiments would be mostly unintelligible to most of human kind. Their findings will only be verified and proven by their fellows in the field, and not even by scientists in other fields. Should we doubt their findings?

In Buddhist teachings, the mind is our instrument, but we need to train it so that we can use it to see the true nature of all phenomena. The Buddha saw how it was and was consequently released from craving and attachment, leading to an ending of suffering.

Others who have repeated this procedure realised the same truth and was likewise liberated. They are then declared as Arahants, the Noble Ones, by virtue of their purity and freedom from craving, attachment and defilements.

Their accounts were recorded and later verified by others. Some even came from other schools to challenge the Buddha and his teachings, but through their own verification, ‘converted’ to the Buddhist teachings.

The invitation to Buddhists and non Buddhists alike has always been this: Ehi passiko. Come and see.

Suki hontu! ^_^

Footnote 1: The mathematics in university was so crazy, they had crazier names!  These include things like binomial series, bernoulli, la place, fourier transform (no, not transformer transform!), root locus, among others … … come to think about it, I have this pet project to go figure most of them out completely, just so I don’t waste this life time of study in university! … but that is another blog post … ^_~


Meanwhile, for those who like studies and clinical tests by the scientists, there are numerous articles citing changes in the grey matter linked to meditation.

The World Is … Is Not Coming to an End!

We have spent 127 days of this year, with 238 days left. There were much excitement a few months ago about the Ending of the World in 2012, and with all the reports on earthquakes and other natural disasters, is the world coming to an end?

nWithin the past 50 years, there were numerous claims to cataclysmic end of the world. None has come true. I’ve got a strange hunch that this one will be no different.

In Buddhism, we also have predictions, a different kind that had more definite and significant impact on all human beings, all sentient beings.

Instead of predicting an end of the world, the Buddha predicted that as long as there is craving and attachment, there will be suffering, and that when there is an end of craving and attachment, there is an End of Suffering, an End of Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Despair and Distress.

That much, the Buddha predicted.

So which future are you going to fulfill?